Gaza flotilla raid: Will it change Turkey's regional role?
Anger with Israel over the Gaza flotilla raid, which ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists, has illustrated the difficulty of Turkey's effort to bridge East and West.
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Turkey has long promoted itself as a bridge between East and West. But it has sometimes looked to Europeans less like a bridge and more like a beachhead for problematic or even threatening positions held in the Muslim world. Erdogan called Iran "our friend" on a recent visit to Tehran, defended Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir – accused of war crimes in Darfur – and opposed a Dane's nomination to head NATO because one of his countrymen drew cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that ignited protests across the Muslim world.
Ankara's tacit support for the Turkish-led aid flotilla to Gaza won points at home, where Palestinians' plight strongly resonates. But questions about the government's connections to the Islamist Turkish nongovernmental organization behind the flotilla, as well as Erdogan's inflammatory rhetoric, have raised doubts about Turkey's ability to be a regional mediator.
What does this mean for ties with the US and Israel?
Turkey and Israel had built a strong alliance over the past 15 years – including trade ties worth $3 billion – on a common foundation: Both were outsiders. Arabs famously led a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. They also resisted – then bitterly resented – the creation of Israel. But that foundation is eroding as Turkey reaches out to its neighbors and Israel becomes increasingly isolated.
The US also may be facing a shift in its strong alliance with Turkey, which hosts the key supply and transit base for US troops in Afghanistan. The two countries have struggled to some extent to redefine their relationship in a post-cold-war world.
"All the talk about strategic cooperation, model partnership, and strategic importance cannot mask the fundamental shift at hand," Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in Foreign Policy. "The stark reality is that while Turkey and the United States are not enemies in the Middle East, they are fast becoming competitors."
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